MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: A Honduran immigration detainee, his feet shackled and shoes laceless as a security precaution, boards a deportation flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on February 28, 2013 in Mesa, Arizona. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen
Updated: March 11, 2013 2:17AM
When Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008, he was all about hope and change.
After he was elected, he delivered on “change” for undocumented immigrants but not in the way many had hoped.
Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, though that was largely ignored by Latinos who gave him overwhelming support in last year’s election.
Thousands of undocumented area residents have been affected by Obama’s policies, carried out by Immigration Customs and Enforcement. Amid an ICE crackdown in 2010, Jorge Cervantes became another statistic.
Stopped for speeding in Warrenville, he was arrested for driving without a license. Upon learning that Cervantes was undocumented, the arresting officer called ICE and that set in motion Cervantes’ deportation to Mexico.
Such a move is not typical for Warrenville police, Deputy Chief David Schar told me, but the department acted then under a directive from ICE to turn over undocumented immigrants, even those with minor traffic violations. Cervantes had no criminal background.
Later in 2010, ICE withdrew the order, Schar said. About that time, ICE was under scrutiny by activists and news media for its tactics to meet deportation goals.
Cervantes, 37, since has lived in despair. He is fighting deportation, and on Tuesday his lawyer will ask a judge for a continuance at a hearing that could determine his fate. He needs authorities to use prosecutorial discretion, essentially their authority for leniency, to give him a reprieve. His lawyer, Mary Carmen R. Madrid-Crost, says in time Cervantes could qualify for legal residency if lawmakers overhaul immigration. She doesn’t sound optimistic, and that leaves Cervantes terrified. “I ask God to let me stay,” he says.
Mexico has changed since he left in 2001. In many parts of that country, anyone who has spent extensive time in the U.S. becomes a kidnapping target. “They’re going to think I have money,” Cervantes says. “They don’t know we live day to day.”
Cervantes has sought advice from Anglican priest and immigration activist Jose Landaverde, who is forwarding documents of support for Cervantes to the Department of Homeland Security.
In Cervantes, Landaverde sees an innocent man who has assimilated to the U.S. “He is a smart man,” Landaverde says. “He speaks better English than I do.”
Cervantes learned English at the College of DuPage. He files taxes, which will surprise those who assume undocumented residents dodge the IRS. On the contrary, they can arrange to receive individual taxpayer numbers as Cervantes did. He drives with auto insurance.
He earned a business administration degree in Mexico but left when work dried up there for his family. They quickly found jobs here during great economic times.
Cervantes worked for a mortgage company until the economy tanked. He then took a minimum-wage job doing housekeeping and maintenance at a nursing home. He showed me a letter in which the son of a 97-year-old patient praised him in a letter that was complimentary of the facility.
That doesn’t change the fact that he has stayed in the U.S. beyond what his tourist visa allowed, but it sheds light on time and money the government is spending on deporting a harmless man.
The Obama administration often claims its focus is ridding the country of criminals who are here illegally. Maybe there aren’t enough out there, because hundreds of undocumented Chicagoans have been targeted at ICE’s whim.
Cervantes is just one paying a steep price.